Monday, August 16, 2010

Thoughts to Shape His Thoughts

 I visited Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello twice last summer and I took a tour of the main building once.  Partly the visit sprang from being a burgeoning American history nerd, and partly it came from reading Time Wastes Too Fast, a webcomic/essay by Maria Kalman -- a brief excerpt of which is at left.

Kalman's piece on Monticello wasn't my introduction to Jefferson as a Renaissance Man, thinker, or overall complicated dude -- but it made me wonder about seeing the interior walls of his life.  It's hard to put into words, but I had the feeling I was going to get to peer into the inside of his brain in a way that reading his letters or biographies wouldn't allow.

And it's a fantastic space.  Anyone more versed in architecture could tell you about the dome, the walls, the spatial layout, I'm sure -- what impressed me most was what he put on his walls.

He covered them, for the most part.  With maps, with antlers and other animal parts, with books -- and with his friends.

He had paintings of people he admired -- mostly men, all white -- and as Kalman says up above, with the most important folks on the top.  It reminds me of my friend Adam's novel, which features a protagonist who carries a small library of essential texts -- Thoreau is in there, along with "The Man of Steel" -- as a means of surrounding himself with the ideas that matter to him.  The thoughts he hopes will shape his thoughts.

But there's a visual element to Jefferson's approach that strikes me as better (sorry Adam -- Jefferson wins again!).  But Jefferson had the added benefit of knowing cats like Ben Franklin and George Washington -- he could surround himself with portraits of great thinkers, leaders and writers who were also dudes he knew socially. 

And Ben Franklin's Ben Franklin, but I know some pretty smart/creative/attractive people too.  Which is to say, if any of you are reading this and thinking of Christmas presents (it's early!  there's time!), there is nothing I would love more than a painting of YOU.  Soon I will have brand new walls to decorate!

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